January 07, 2013

Ker-Pow! My First "Critique" - Ramona Heikel

During my second year of university, I wrote a column in the student newspaper, The Oredigger. As the secretary of the student body it was my job to take minutes at each meeting of the student council, and then write an article about the meeting to help students keep informed of student government activities and issues.

After publishing my first article, the editor said to me, “These meetings are pretty dry. Can you spice up your articles with some humor or something?” I assured him I could, and for the rest of the school year I wrote lighter articles, trying to draw readers in by a humorous narrative of our monthly meetings. Since the editor merely thanked me each time I stopped by the newspaper office to hand him my typed sheets (no email in those days!), I assumed he was happy with my writing.

Then, while reading the last issue of The Oredigger, which came out at the end of the school year, just before everyone finished their finals and left for the summer, I came upon a letter to the editor that stopped my heart. A student complained that throughout the year the student council articles had been annoyingly cutesy and unprofessional, not befitting an upstanding population of students such as ours. At the end of that letter was a note from the editor, saying that he had no control over the article that was submitted by student council.

I felt sick. I was so shocked to find out that after 9 months of articles, not only had a reader disliked them so much that she went to the trouble to gripe about them for several paragraphs, but had also waited to speak up until I had no chance to redeem myself. Not only that, I felt betrayed by the editor for apparently agreeing with her, yet never mentioning his dissatisfaction to me throughout the year, or at least showing me the letter before it went to publication to give me a chance to respond.

However, I took their criticisms to heart as I re-read some of my articles, and I had to agree. They were way too cutesy. See the sample for yourself, and I think you’ll agree. So now I was embarrassed and ashamed, and not just a little, or for a short while. I just re-read that letter to the editor (which I saved…why?) and I feel the same emotions as I did in 1977. And I still have trouble not being cutesy.

It was an awful experience, but I’m sure that it took the edge off subsequent critiques and rejections, and it taught me some good lessons about consideration for my audience and keeping in mind the purpose of a piece of writing.

It occurs to me also that this is not the only time in my life that God has used a traumatic experience to take the edge off of others that followed. Maybe that is one way that I can give thanks in all circumstances, knowing that right in the midst of them God can be using them to strengthen me and give me wisdom for the future.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering, the caption on the photograph mentions slides of a wet t-shirt contest, but that was only a ploy to get more people to come to the meetings. They were actually scenic slides from a trip to the mountains—honest!)

Posted by Ramona


  1. Ramona,

    I so enjoyed your story.

    Oi vey.. I agree, it's too bad your critiquers waited till the end of the year to speak up. I think you did well to still take their words to heart.

    I'm thinking that is a good lesson for all of us... on the other side of the story. If they would have said something sooner you could have rectified and all would have been well.

    (We're glad you didn't let that stop you from writing... happily too, I note!)

  2. I can see how that could have been devastating, but fortunately you got over it, and like you said, criticism makes you stronger.

  3. By the way, I like your 'cutesy' style. We all have our own style, which is a good thing or reading would be very boring. I guess as writers we have to be willing to be criticized for our style. We can't appeal to everybody.
    And, I thought you were very brave to let us in on your 70's article. My old ones are either burned or buried deep in the files!

    Pam M.

  4. Oh, my, what wonderful encouragers you all are! I think you're turning the tide and I'll begin to recover from the trauma of reliving it :). I so appreciate you commenting.


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